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Posts Tagged ‘US foreign policy’

US HEGEMONY vs SATELLITE PEONY

In anthropology, politics on June 25, 2013 at 7:52 am

Granted that Americans have a right to worry whether their own government is spying on them. Hence the whole Snowden ‘whistle-blower’ controversy. Now consider the case of New Zealand, a US satellite that more and more, under a right wing government, seems intent on making peons of its own people. The ruling minority government, with an effective majority of one in the House of Representatives, is about to pass legislation that will allow its US ally (and presumably other ‘friendly’ powers) to spy on New Zealanders via their own spy station situated outside Christchurch. The government, dominated by the National Party, is of course eagerly whipping up a state of paranoia among chronically paranoiac and anxious citizens by warning of imminent acts of internal terrorism. By the end of the week it will be too late to think about which terror is worse: that of the state over its own people that is going to happen, or you might say, freelance internal terrorism that might never happen. New Zealand long ago discounted the remote possibility of aggressive influences coming from outside to this far end of the world. After all, why else would it have let its so-called armed forces be depleted over the past half-century to one SAS company and various peace-keeping units deployed overseas that could not contribute to defending the country?

The tendency of this country to infantilism in the face of Mother Britain for a century and a half and the United States in the past half century has, as some feared, bred a country of sheep only too willing to be led to a slaughter of the spirit by a sequence of cowardly judas goats in charge. Such easy efforts to appease bigger partners internationally come at the real cost of New Zealand taking committed action and assertive measures over its own realistic concerns, of which there are many. To name one, huge systemic gaps and numerous lapses in civil construction and inspection standards responsible for killing and maiming hundreds of people, and irreparably damaging the mental wellbeing of countless thousands of others in just the past two years. Responsible for extending the effects of specific tragedies out to years is the lack of accountability and ducking for cover of government departments, insurance companies and other private corporations and local authorities. The disasters in question are the explosion in the Pike River coalmine that killed 29; the Christchurch earthquake(s) killing hundreds; and the negligent grounding of a cargo ship in the Bay of Plenty that jettisoned oil and hundreds of polluting containers into the sea, left to drift and sink in the absence of any aggressive recovery plan.

The Christchurch earthquake, and after thousands of after shocks there are still tens of thousands homeless and without sufficient means to start again

The Christchurch earthquake, and after thousands of after shocks there are still tens of thousands homeless and without sufficient means to start again

The Pike River Coal Mine explosion in November 2010 killed 29 miners. At least it was assumed from the first that they were killed. As anxious relatives waited on hopes day after day though expecting the worst, willing volunteer rescuers were prevented from even entering the mine by the police. This is just one instance of the enculturated Kiwi habit of officials hanging back and waiting. Still after two and a half years only robotic surveillance has been allowed, the results suggesting all the victims were not killed outright. In the initial enquiry the company was found guilty of nine “health & safety” violations. But in July 2013 it was revealed that of $90 million in insurance coverage a total of $156,000 has filtered down to be distributed to victims’ families in ‘compensation’. You do the arithmetic. Two weeks later police announced there would be no prosecution of mine owners and management because there was no direct causal link established: New Zealand has no such charge as “corporate manslaughter”.

The basis of the fault lies with New Zealanders’ self-vaunted “No.8 wire spirit”, so-called for the gauge of fencing wire used for all purposes originally by farmers for everything from extracting ear wax to holding a car engine together. This myth involving inherent love of amateurism in all spheres is deeply ingrained in Kiwi culture — admiration of the ad hoc over careful preparation, which is seen derisively as prissy or over-intellectualized. In the Pike River (Westland province) and Christchurch cases numerous instances of unheeded warnings over many years, shoddy design, construction and inspection regimes, and overarching laissez faire management philosophies creating “disasters waiting to happen”, were looked upon with disbelief and downright disgust by Australian and US experts called on to testify to best practices well established overseas for generations if not centuries.

This has been the pattern of civil expectations in New Zealand life for the past thirty years, since the turnaround of the 1984 so-called Labour government to right-wing economics, and growing more emphatic in quantum leaps every time there is National Party government insisting on thousands more job cuts in what are increasingly recognized as essential services. I accuse this government of wantonly risking more lives in the cause of easing their own. This further indenturing of its own citizens to outside interests will strip away any vestige or pretence of independence this country might still cling on to.

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Whatever happened to “No foreign wars!”

In history, ideology, morality, politics, television, war on December 27, 2007 at 10:06 am

Living outside America, as I have since age five — that is, my entire informed life — I have been disadvantaged in one sense in looking at the ‘Homeland’ (a term a little too reminiscent of ‘Fatherland’). That is, not being able to see it intimately, from the inside. I was acculturated as an American but since about sixteen, when I first thought of looking at things with an independent mind, I haven’t experienced the unadulterated pride and satisfaction Americans have in simply being American. (I almost said self-satisfaction but I think that applies more to the British; I’m convinced Americans are, for the most part, unassuming and appreciate things that come their way as gifts rather than rights they deserve.) I’m sure it’s made up of appreciating the many little things. But in a larger sense also, the state of simply living in ‘The Land of the Free’ — or what used to pass for it.

But on the other hand, though seeing America second hand, I don’t run the risk of self-serving delusion. And, standing back from something as big and complex as America — the place and the concept — you can, I think, more often see ‘the big picture’, and little things you often can’t see for standing right on top of them.

Now, I have rich childhood memories of America (1955-60) and am the first to admire American popular culture: the little cowboy outfit I wore riding on my trike; the junior grid iron one I had in USC colors — yellow and blue; the derringer in a belt buckle that would pop out with belly pressure; the rifle with a built-in ricochet; the crystal set in the shape of a rocket ship I used to listen to hit parades from 1958 on. For the past few days over Xmas I have been enjoying back-to-back screenings of B-movies from the Thirties and Forties on DVD. And if old B-movies are still worth watching, how much better was the ‘A product’ with slightly bigger budgets? — before 1975 and the mega-budgets spent on ‘perfecting’ very routine ‘special’ effects through the Spielberg-Lucas-Cameron-Jackson era. But the foreign policy of the United States is another thing entirely, something to be anything but admired, as many Americans have come to feel over recent years.

Though this fatal disconnect between a huge proportion of the population and its ruling elite has only come about recently, it has been in the brewing for decades. The big difference is that now the level of discontent has reached its critical mass. Something big is about to happen — must happen — for the unbearable political stress to be released. Over perhaps the past fifty years, since about the time of the Korean War and the inexorable build-up of what Eisenhower warned against as the self-sustaining power of the military-industrial complex of the United States, foreigners have tried to stretch their minds around how this need for vast military power equates to the generous, unassuming Americans they have met and got to know as individuals.

It is easy to see how the thinking of politicians is corrupted by power — it happens in every country in the world — but how do peace-loving small-town people across America, with their Saturday morning bake-sales, scouts activities, camping vacations and Mom-and-Pop businesses buy into this thinking?

Everyone knows that from the Founding Fathers on, Americans avoided foreign wars on principle, almost at all costs — allowing for the cruel Civil War and occasional imperialistic forays into Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean. Before his nation finally joined in World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to plead with his countrymen not to ignore for too long the fact of the war and that one day they would have to relate up close and nasty with those aggressor countries who had made war on the rest of the world. Then as soon as the war was won there was a popular cry from Americans to “Bring the Boys Home!”

But now the United States is the aggressor and the populist cry is “Let’s support our boys over there!”, as if soldiers should be directing the foreign policy of the United States; and the president should be conducting international relations as a commander-in-chief — he who must be obeyed to the ends of the earth, no matter how bogus the premise for war, no matter how wanton the war or destructive to his own people. Every president from Washington to Eisenhower must be rolling in their graves at the thought of the incumbent. On the other hand one of the popular, ‘liberal’ and seemingly rational Republican presidential candidates, Senator John McCain, is all for “supporting our troops” no matter how many of the troops disagree with him or resent being put in the crossfire for no good reason — repeatedly, as terms of duty are extended and then multiplied, indefinitely. Yet McCain must represent something akin to a mainstream in this warped thinking. He has been welcomed onto tv’s ‘The Daily Show’ and backslapped by hard-hitting satirist John Stewart — at least, hard-hitting when he has something easy to ridicule.

One tiny fraction of the (foreign) price of war: an Iraqi mother clings to her dead child

One tiny fraction of the (foreign) price of war: an Iraqi mother clings to her dead child

Unless Americans come out wholesale to vigorously protest (it might be illegal to incite actual rebellion) they can kiss what is left of their democracy goodbye. But the task looks immense. Already the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates with the largest followings shaping up for the next election in November 2008 have publicly refused to rein themselves in by renouncing the powers the current president has grabbed for himself — happy with the fact that his freefall towards full-blown fascism has set the precedent.

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